Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ang Lee|
|Based on||"Brokeback Mountain"|
by Annie Proulx
|Music by||Gustavo Santaolalla|
|Distributed by||Focus Features|
|Box office||$178.1 million|
Brokeback Mountain is a 2005 American romantic drama film directed by Ang Lee and produced by Diana Ossana and James Schamus. Adapted from the 1997 short story of the same name by Annie Proulx, the screenplay was written by Ossana and Larry McMurtry. The film stars Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal, Anne Hathaway and Michelle Williams, and depicts the complex emotional and sexual relationship between Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist in the American West from 1963 to 1983.
Lee became attached to the project after previous attempts to adapt the short story into a film did not materialize. Focus Features and River Road Entertainment would jointly produce and distribute the film. After Ledger and Gyllenhaal's casting was announced in 2003, filming commenced in various locations in Alberta, Canada in 2004. Brokeback Mountain premiered at the 2005 Venice Film Festival and was released to theaters on December 9 that year. Gustavo Santaolalla scored the film's original soundtrack.
The film received critical acclaim, in particular for Lee's direction and the performances of Ledger, Gyllenhaal, and Williams. Brokeback Mountain was included on many film critics' 2005 top-ten lists. It was also commercially successful, and grossed $178 million worldwide against its $14 million budget. At the 78th Academy Awards, Brokeback Mountain was nominated for Best Picture and won three awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score. The film garnered seven nominations at the 63rd Golden Globe Awards, and won four awards. At the 59th British Academy Film Awards, Brokeback Mountain was nominated for nine awards, winning Best Film, Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor (Gyllenhaal).
Brokeback Mountain was also a subject of controversies, such as its loss to Crash for the Academy Award for Best Picture, censorship, and criticism from conservative media outlets. The sexuality of the main characters has been subject to discussion. Brokeback Mountain has also been regarded as a turning point for the advancement of queer cinema into the mainstream. In 2018, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.
In 1963, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist are hired by Joe Aguirre to herd his sheep through the summer on the Brokeback mountains. After a night of heavy drinking, Jack makes a pass at a hesitant Ennis, and Ennis eventually responds to Jack's advances. Ennis tells Jack that it was a one-time incident, but they soon develop a passionate sexual and emotional relationship. Eventually, Jack and Ennis part ways; Ennis marries his longtime fiancée Alma Beers and has two daughters with her. Jack returns the next summer seeking work, but Aguirre, who had observed Jack and Ennis on the mountain, refuses to rehire him.
Jack moves to Texas, where he meets rodeo rider Lureen Newsome and has a son with her. After four years apart, Jack visits Ennis. Upon meeting, the two passionately kiss, which Alma inadvertently observes. Jack broaches the subject of creating a life with Ennis on a small ranch, but Ennis refuses; he is unwilling to abandon his family, and is haunted by a childhood memory of two men being killed for suspected homosexual behavior.
Ennis and Jack meet infrequently for fishing trips, while their respective marriages deteriorate. Lureen abandons the rodeo, going into business with her father, which in turn causes Jack to work in sales. Alma and Ennis eventually divorce in 1975. Upon hearing about the divorce, Jack drives to Wyoming and tells Ennis that they should live together, but Ennis refuses to move away from his children. Upset, Jack finds solace with male prostitutes in Mexico.
Alma eventually confronts Ennis about the true nature of his relationship with Jack. The couple have an argument, causing Ennis to cease contact with Alma. Ennis goes on to have a brief romantic relationship with a waitress called Cassie. Jack and Lureen befriend another couple, Randall and Lashawn Malone. Jack realizes he may not have a future with Ennis, and responds to Randall's advances. At the end of a fishing trip, Ennis tells Jack that he cannot take any more time off from work to meet him. The pair have an argument, in which they blame each other for not being together. Ennis begins to cry and Jack embraces him.
Some time later, Ennis receives a postcard that he had sent to Jack, stamped with "Deceased". He calls Lureen, who says that Jack died when a car tire accidentally exploded in his face. As Ennis begins to imagine Jack's fate, Lureen tells him that Jack wanted to have his ashes scattered on Brokeback Mountain. Ennis meets Jack's parents and offers to take Jack's ashes to the mountain. The father refuses, preferring to have them interred in a family plot. Ennis goes to Jack's bedroom; Ennis finds his bloodstained shirt in the closet. He discovers Jack kept it hanging with his own shirt from a fight they had that summer. Ennis holds the shirts to his face and silently weeps.
Later, a 19-year-old Alma Jr. arrives at Ennis' trailer to tell him that she is engaged. She asks for his blessing and invites him to the wedding. Once Alma Jr. leaves, Ennis goes to his closet where his and Jack's shirts hang together, with a postcard of Brokeback Mountain tacked above them. Teary eyed, he stares at the ensemble for a moment before walking away.
Screenwriter Diana Ossana discovered Annie Proulx's short story, Brokeback Mountain, in October 1997, just days after its publication. She convinced writing partner Larry McMurty to read it, who thought it was a "masterpiece". The pair asked Proulx if they could adapt it into a film screenplay; although she did not think that the story would work as a film, she agreed. In a 1999 interview with The Missouri Review, Proulx praised their screenplay. Ossana said that convincing a director and production company to make the film was a challenging and nonstop process.Gus Van Sant attempted to make the film, hoping to cast Matt Damon and Joaquin Phoenix as Ennis and Jack, respectively. Damon, who previously worked with Van Sant on Good Will Hunting, told the director, "Gus, I did a gay movie (The Talented Mr. Ripley), then a cowboy movie (All the Pretty Horses). I can't follow it up with a gay-cowboy movie!" Instead, Van Sant went on to make the biographical film Milk, based on the life of gay rights activist and politician Harvey Milk. Joel Schumacher was also linked with the project at one point.
Focus Features CEO James Schamus optioned the film rights in 2001, but thought it was a risky project. At Ossana's request, Schamus showed the story and screenplay to director Ang Lee. Lee decided to make Hulk instead; his experience of Hulk, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon from two years prior left him exhausted. In 2003, he considered retirement but Brokeback Mountain came back to his mind and tempted him back into filmmaking. Lee attempted to get the film made as an independent producer. However, this did not work out, and before Lee would take a break after finishing Hulk, he contacted Schamus about Brokeback Mountain. Schamus thought Brokeback Mountain embraces the American West without being a traditional Western, and told Lee that he should consider directing it. Lee said, "Towards the end [of the script] ... I got tears in my eyes". He was particularly drawn to the authentic rural American life and repression depicted in the story.Bill Pohlad of River Road Entertainment, who had a two-year partnership with Focus Features, helped finance the film.
Casting director Avy Kaufman said Lee was very decisive about the actors for the lead roles. In 2003, screenwriters Ossana and McMurty suggested Heath Ledger (after being impressed by his performance in Monster's Ball), but the film studio thought he was not masculine enough. Regardless, Kaufman sent the script to Ledger, who thought it was "beautiful" and put himself forward. Gyllenhaal reacted to the script positively and signed on for the role; he also did not want to miss the opportunity working with Lee and friend Ledger. Gyllenhaal admired Ledger and described him as "way beyond his years as a human". Other actors were considered for the leads but Lee said they were too afraid to take on the roles.
From the beginning, Ledger wanted to portray Ennis and not Jack. He opined that Ennis was more complex; a masculine and homophobic character. Ledger said, "The lack of words he [Ennis] had to express himself, his inability to love", made the role enjoyable. Ledger, who grew up around horses, researched his character's personal traits, and learned to speak in Wyoming and Texas accents. Lee gave Ledger and Gyllenhaal books about cowboys who were gay or shared similar experiences as the characters depicted in Proulx's book. Ledger and Gyllenhaal also went to a ranch on the outskirts of Los Angeles and learned to ride horses. Gyllenhaal later said:
That what ties these two characters together is not just a love, but a loneliness. I think primarily it was deep loneliness. And what I always say about that movie [Brokeback Mountain], which I think maybe over time is more understood, is that this is about two people desperately looking for love. To be loved. And who were probably capable of it. And they just found it with someone of the same sex. And that does not dismiss the fact that it is about, really, primarily, the first kind of very profound gay love story. Hopefully it can create an equality of an idea: that is, it's possible that you can find love anywhere. That intimacy exists in so many places that convention and society won't always allow us to see. And we won't allow ourselves to see, because of what criticism -- and danger, really -- it might provoke.
Lee interviewed between 20 and 30 actresses for the roles of Alma and Lureen. Michelle Williams was one of the first to audition for the role of Alma, and Lee thought she was perfect for the part.Anne Hathaway, who was filming The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement at the time, showed up to the audition during her lunch break. She was wearing a ball gown and hairpiece "that was way over the top", but she still felt focused for the audition. At first, Lee did not think she was an obvious choice, but he was convinced with her audition and cast her as Lureen. Hathaway lied to Lee about her knowledge of horse riding in order to cast her. She took lessons for two months to prepare.
Lee was happy with Ledger and Gyllenhaal portraying Ennis and Jack, respectively, because he thought their "young innocence" will help carry a love story until the end. Lee added, "I think these two are among the best in their age group [...] Jake plays the opposite of Heath and it creates a very good couple in terms of a romantic love story. The chemistry, I think, is great." Once all four leads were cast, Lee remembered being impressed with their maturity despite their young age; "It really scared me how good they were".
Principal photography began in the summer of 2004. While the novel is set in Wyoming, Brokeback Mountain was filmed almost entirely in the Canadian Rockies in southern Alberta. Lee was given a tour of the locations from the story in Wyoming by Proulx, but chose to shoot in Alberta citing financial reasons. The mountain featured in the film is a composite of Mount Lougheed south of the town of Canmore, Fortress and Moose Mountain in Kananaskis Country. The campsites were filmed at Goat Creek, Upper Kananaskis Lake, Elbow Falls and Canyon Creek, also in Alberta. Other scenes were filmed in Cowley, Fort Macleod, and Calgary.Brokeback Mountain production budget was approximately US$14 million.
Initially, Alberta's environmental department prohibited the crew from bringing domestic sheep into the Rockies, due to a risk of disease harming the local wildlife. The authorities eventually gave permission for them to shoot on one mountain, as long as they transported the domestic sheep in and out, every day. A biologist was hired to supervise this process. Lee prefers working with cinematographers who are open minded, eager to learn, and able to show an interest in the story and content before talking about the visuals. Therefore, he selected Rodrigo Prieto for the job; saying, "I think he's versatile, and I wanted somebody who could shoot quickly [...] he was able to give me the tranquil, almost passive look I wanted for Brokeback. I believe a talent's a talent".
Ledger and Gyllenhaal, whom were friends before Brokeback Mountain, were mostly unconcerned with the intimate scenes. The first sex scene between Ennis and Jack took 13 takes to meet Lee's expectation. The director would keep his distance from them during filming, allowing the actors to be free and spontaneous. Lee said, "I don't talk too much [to them] except for technical notes. So they [the intimate scenes] are a lot easier to deal with". Ledger was observant of Lee's directing style, saying, "There's two sides to Ang's direction -- there's the pre-production, which is incredibly thorough and private, and then there's the shooting side, when he just doesn't say anything at all." Ledger said that this helped him try harder during takes. Gyllenhaal echoed Ledger's sentiment; "He just totally disconnects from you while you're shooting", but praised Lee's directorial skills.
In regards to acting, Ledger was sometimes disrupted by Gyllenhaal's acting style; Gyllenhaal tended to improvise whereas Ledger preferred to be highly-prepared. The director allowed Ledger to see his performance on the camera monitor so that he could improve. During the last scenes where Ennis meets Jack's parents, production designer Judy Becker was tasked in finding a suitable house. Lee took inspiration from painters Andrew Wyeth and Vilhelm Hammershoi for the white interior walls. Using two cameras, Lee would capture the actors from both angles, and then change lenses and repeat. "When you edit it together, you can apply certain emphasis to certain reactions, emotions", Lee said. Ossana remembers that the last scenes were emotional for Ledger and personally affected him. The actors who played Jack's parents, Roberta Maxwell and Peter McRobbie, said Ledger was very quiet and gave a "powerful performance".
--Gyllenhaal on the film's experience
Executive producer Michael Hausman rented Airstream trailers for the cast and crew to sleep in. He created an on-set atmosphere which mimicked a summer camp, where people could bond and feel close. Hausman recalled that they would sit around the fireplaces, cook food and go fishing on the creek. The production was not without commotion; the cast suffered several injuries during filming. Williams sprained her knee in the early days of filming, therefore, her character's movements were altered to be either sitting or standing most of the time. Ledger also injured his hand when he punched a wall for a scene. During a kissing scene, Ledger almost broke Gyllenhaal's nose. The American Humane raised concerns that animals were treated improperly during filming, alleging that sheep were handled roughly and that an elk appeared to have been "shot on cue." They learned that the elk was shot with anesthetic, violating standard guidelines for animal handling in the film industry.
During post-production, Geraldine Peroni and Dylan Tichenor served as film editors, but Peroni died in August 2004 and Tichenor took over. The pair relied on Media Composer for editing, and sound engineer Eugene Gearty used Pro Tools for the creation of sound effects. Buzz Image Group were hired to create 75 visual effect shots, including computer-generated clouds, landscapes and sheep. For the film's theatrical poster, Schamus took inspiration from James Cameron's Titanic, which depicts two star-crossed lovers.
Gustavo Santaolalla scored the film's soundtrack, which consists of seventeen tracks as well as songs from Bob Dylan and Roger Miller. The album was released on October 25, 2005. Based on the story and one conversation with the director, Santaolalla was able to score the music before filming began. He said, "I mean if you are connected to the story and to the director, it makes a lot of sense because somehow you know, the music then becomes a part of the fabric of that film from the very beginning." He also used a real orchestra and played his own guitar.
The film received a limited release in the United States on December 9, 2005, and grossed $547,425 in its first weekend. Over the Christmas weekend, and beginning of January 2006, the film expanded into more domestic theaters. On January 20, the film opened in 1,194 theaters, then 1,652 theaters on January 27, and 2,089 theaters on February 3, its widest release.
Brokeback Mountain was released in one theater in London on December 30 and received a wider release in the United Kingdom on January 6, 2006. The film was released in France on January 18, to 155 theaters, expanding to 290 by the third week. In its first week of release, Brokeback Mountain was in third place at the French box office. In Italy, the film grossed more than EUR890,000 in three days and was the fourth highest-grossing film in its first week. The film was released in Australia on January 26, where it ranked fourth place at the weekend box office. Brokeback Mountain was released in many other countries during the first three months of 2006. During its first week of release in Hong Kong, Brokeback Mountain was ranked first place at the box office, earning more than US$473,868 ($22,565 per theater). The film opened in Lee's native Taiwan on January 20. The film grossed $83 million in North America and $95 million internationally, for a worldwide $178 million. It is the highest-grossing release for Focus Features.
The film has been given different titles in accordance to different languages and regions. For the film's release in French and Italian, it was titled Le Secret de Brokeback Mountain and I segreti di Brokeback Mountain (The Secret(s) of Brokeback Mountain), respectively. In Canadian French, the title is Souvenirs de Brokeback Mountain (Memories of Brokeback Mountain). The film received two Spanish titles: Brokeback Mountain: En terreno vedado (In a forbidden terrain) for its release in Spain and Secreto en la Montaña (Secret in the mountain) for its release in Latin America. In Hungarian, the title was Túl a barátságon (Beyond friendship).
--Ang Lee, responding to being celebrated in China for winning the Best Director Academy Award, although the film was not released there.
The film was met with mixed responses in some regions, particularly China and Islamic nations of western Asia. According to reports, the film was not shown in theaters in China, though it was freely available in bootleg DVD and VHS. The Chinese government said the audience would have been too small; the foreign media accused the government of censorship. The word "brokeback" (Chinese: ; pinyin: ) also entered the Chinese lexicon as a slang for homosexuality. The film was dubbed "the gay cowboy movie" by the press, a term that was propelled into the American vernacular.
In the Middle East, distribution of the film became a political issue. Homosexuality is considered a crime in most Islamic nations and is taboo in the few countries where it is legal. Lebanon was the only Arab country to show the film, although in a censored format. The film was also released in Turkey. The film was officially banned from screenings in the United Arab Emirates; however, the DVD of the film was permitted to be rented from stores such as Blockbuster Video.
On December 8, 2008, the Italian state-owned television channel Rai Due aired a censored version of the film, removing all the scenes with homoerotic references. Viewers protested, saying the deletions made the plot hard to follow. The Arcigay organisation accused the channel for homophobic censorship. The state-owned television network RAI said the Italian film distributor had mistakenly censored the film. RAI showed an uncensored version of the film on March 17, 2009.
Brokeback Mountain was the first major film to be released simultaneously on both DVD and digital download via the Internet. It was released in the United States on April 4, 2006. More than 1 million copies of the DVD were sold in the first week, and it was the third biggest seller of the week behind Disney's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and King Kong. Although the ranking fluctuated daily, by late March and early April 2006, Brokeback Mountain had been the top-selling DVD on Amazon.com for several days running.
The DVD in Europe was released in the UK on April 24, 2006. This was followed by France in July, and Poland in September, a considerable time after the theater release in both countries.Brokeback Mountain was re-released in a collector's edition on January 23, 2007. On the same day, it was also released in HD DVD format. The film was released on Blu-ray in the UK on August 13, 2007, and in the U.S. on March 10, 2009. The Blu-ray contains special features including interviews with the screenwriters, director and a short documentary about composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
Brokeback Mountain opened to positive reviews upon its release. On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 87% based on 246 reviews, with an average rating of 8.17/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A beautifully epic Western, Brokeback Mountains gay love story is imbued with heartbreaking universality, helped by the moving performances of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal." On Metacritic, the film has a rating of 87/100 based on 41 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."
David Ansen of Newsweek gave the film a positive review, praising the faithful screenplay. He adds, "There's neither coyness nor self-importance in Brokeback Mountain--just close, compassionate observation, deeply committed performances, a bone-deep feeling for hardscrabble Western lives. Few films have captured so acutely the desolation of frustrated, repressed passion." Writing for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw praised Ledger and Gyllenhaal for their complementary performances. Bradshaw thought the film was "extremely moving, tragic even, and sensitive towards the feelings of the simple wives who attempt to understand their troubled husbands."Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post was equally positive, opining that the two lead actors' performances was unforgettable. In particular, she thought Ledger was impressive in his portrayal of a reserved and emotionally affected Ennis. Hornaday also praised the costumes and sets, writing "The Wyoming vistas are flawlessly manicured, Ledger and Gyllenhaal perfectly costumed and coiffed; even Ennis and Alma's sad little apartment over a laundromat seems to have been designed to death."
Roger Ebert gave the Brokeback Mountain a maximum rating of four stars in his review. Ebert was impressed with the level of attention to the characters, and thought that the film was as observant as the work by Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Writing for The Sydney Morning Herald, Sandra Hall praised the screenplay and called Ledger and Gyllenhaal "finely tuned". Noting that it is a slow film, Hall thought the filmmakers had adapted Proulx's story without missing any nuances.USA Todays Mike Clark, observed that Brokeback Mountain was directed and photographed with restraint, and praised its old-fashioned quality, and "unassuming but people-oriented" nature. The film also received a positive reaction from Christianity Today; the reviewer gave the film 3 out of 4 stars. In a mixed review, Ed Gonzalez of Slant magazine thought the film was too long, and the critic from Time magazine felt that the story became less intense towards the end. Conservative radio host Michael Medved described it as "extremely well done", but felt the film was pushing the gay agenda.
Several conservative political pundits, including commentators Bill O'Reilly, John Gibson, and Cal Thomas, shared Medved's view of the "agenda". Gibson made jokes about the film on his Fox News Radio program for months after its release. After the death of Ledger in 2008, Gibson was criticized for mocking the deceased actor, and later apologized. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh has referred to the film as "Bareback Mountain" and "Humpback Mountain".Don Imus referred to the film as "Fudgepack Mountain". Several conservative Christian groups, such as Concerned Women for America (CWA) and Focus on the Family, criticized the film for its subject matter. Following the success of Brokeback Mountain, Capote, and Transamerica at the 2006 Golden Globes Awards, Janice Crouse, a CWA member, cited these films as examples of how "the media elites are proving that their pet projects are more important than profit", and suggested they were not popular enough to warrant critical acclaim.
Film critic Gene Shalit of The Today Show, described the character of Jack Twist as a "sexual predator" who "tracks Ennis down and coaxes him into sporadic trysts." The LGBT media group GLAAD said that Shalit's characterization of Twist was like calling Jack in Titanic a sexual predator due to his romantic pursuit of Rose. Shalit's openly gay son, Peter Shalit, wrote an open letter to GLAAD: "He [Gene] may have had an unpopular opinion of a movie that is important to the gay community, but he defamed no one, and he is not a homophobe." Gene Shalit later apologized for his review; "I did not intend to use a word that many in the gay community consider incendiary... I certainly had no intention of casting aspersions on anyone in the gay community or on the community itself. I regret any emotional hurt that may have resulted from my review of Brokeback Mountain."
Some commentators accused the filmmakers for hiding content about the film in advertising and in public events, such as press conferences and award ceremonies. New York Daily News writer Wayman Wong, Dave Cullen and Daniel Mendelsohn argued that the director, cast, and publicists avoided using the word gay to describe the story, and noted that the film's trailer did not show a kiss between the two men but showed a heterosexual love scene. The film's significance has been attributed to its portrayal of a same-sex relationship focused solely on the characters; it does not refer to the history of the LGBT social movements. It emphasizes the tragic love story aspect, and many critics have compared Ennis and Jack's drama to classic and modern romances such as Romeo and Juliet or Titanic, often using the term star-crossed lovers. Proulx praised the film as "huge and powerful, adding, "I may be the first writer in America to have a piece of writing make its way to the screen whole and entire. [...] I was astonished that the characters of Jack and Ennis came surging into my mind again".
Critics' lists of 2005
Brokeback Mountain appeared on numerous American critics' lists as one of their favorite films of 2005.
The film was picked as one of the 400 nominated films for the American Film Institute list AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition).Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, best-of list. In a 2016 international poll conducted by BBC, Brokeback Mountain was ranked the 40th greatest film since 2000.
On January 6, 2006, Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller removed the film from theaters at the Jordan Commons entertainment complex in Sandy, Utah. Miller said the film's content had no resemblance of a traditional family, which he believed is "dangerous". Focus Features threatened legal action and announced it would no longer do business with him.
On March 23, 2006, Randy Quaid, who portrayed Joe Aguirre in the film, filed a lawsuit against Focus Features for misrepresenting Brokeback Mountain as "a low-budget, art house film with no prospect of making any money", in order to secure his role for a cheaper rate. On May 4, Quaid's publicist said he dropped the lawsuit as the company agreed to pay him a settlement; the company denies this however.
Brokeback Mountain garnered awards and nominations in a variety of categories, including for its directing, screenplay, acting, original score, and cinematography. At the 78th Academy Awards, Brokeback Mountain was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and won three awards for Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Original Score. The film garnered seven nominations at the 63rd Golden Globe Awards, winning four for Best Motion Picture - Drama, Best Director, Best Song, and Best Screenplay. At the 59th British Academy Film Awards, Brokeback Mountain was nominated for nine awards, winning in the categories of Best Film, Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for Jake Gyllenhaal.
After Brokeback Mountain lost the Academy Award for Best Picture to Crash, some critics accused the Academy of homophobia and for making a non-groundbreaking choice. Commentators including Kenneth Turan and Nikki Finke derided the Academy's decision, but Roger Ebert defended the decision to award Crash Best Picture, arguing that the better film won. Ebert questioned why critics were not acknowledging other nominees and appeared to be only criticizing Crash because it won over Brokeback Mountain. Proulx wrote an essay expressing disappointment in the film not winning Best Picture. She also opined that Philip Seymour Hoffman's performance in Capote required less effort than that required of the actors in Brokeback Mountain. Following the loss, more than 800 supporters raised up to $26,000 to place an advertisement in the Daily Variety. The advert thanked the filmmakers "for transforming countless lives through the most honored film of the year."
The film is one of several highly acclaimed LGBT-related films of 2005 to be nominated for critical awards; others include Breakfast on Pluto, Capote, Rent, and Transamerica. It was voted the top film involving homosexual relationships by readers at TheBacklot.com. In 2010, the Independent Film & Television Alliance selected the film as one of the 30 Most Significant Independent Films of the last 30 years.
Critics and the cast and crew disagreed as to whether the film's two protagonists were homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, or should be free of any sexual orientation classification. The film was frequently referred to in the media as the "gay cowboy movie", but a number of reviewers noted that both Jack and Ennis were bisexual. Sex researcher Fritz Klein said that the film was "a nice film with two main characters who were bisexual" and suggested that the character of Jack is more "toward the gay side" of the spectrum and Ennis is "a bit more toward the straight side".
Gyllenhaal concluded that Ennis and Jack were straight men who "develop this love, this bond," saying in a Details interview: "I approached the story believing that these are actually two straight guys who fall in love." Ledger told Time magazine in 2005: "I don't think Ennis could be labeled as gay. Without Jack Twist, I don't know that he ever would have come out. I think the whole point was that it was two souls that fell in love with each other."
Others said they felt the characters' sexuality was meant to be ambiguous. Clarence Patton and Christopher Murray of New York's Gay City News wrote that Ennis and Jack's experiences were metaphors for "many men who do not identify as gay or even queer, but who nevertheless have sex with other men".Entertainment Weekly wrote that "everyone called it 'The Gay Cowboy Movie' until they saw it. In the end, Ang Lee's 2005 love story wasn't gay or straight, just human." Tom Ciorciari of EFilmCritic.com wrote: "We later see Jack eagerly engage Lureen sexually, with no explanation as to whether he is bisexual, so in need of physical intimacy that anyone, regardless of gender, will do, or merely very adept at faking it."
LGBT non-fiction author Eric Marcus dismissed "talk of Ennis and Jack being anything but gay as box office-influenced political correctness intended to steer straight audiences to the film". Roger Ebert believed that both characters were gay, but doubted it themselves: "Jack is able to accept a little more willingly that he is inescapably gay." Producer James Schamus said, "I suppose movies can be Rorschach tests for all of us, but damn if these characters aren't gay to me."Brokeback Mountain author Annie Proulx said, "how different readers take the story is a reflection of their own personal values, attitudes, hang-ups."
When Ledger and Gyllenhaal were asked if they feared being cast in controversial roles, Ledger stated that he was not afraid of the role, but rather he was concerned that he would not be mature enough as an actor to do the story justice. Gyllenhaal has stated that he is proud of the film and his role, regardless of what the reactions would be. He thinks rumors of him being bisexual are flattering, stating: "I'm open to whatever people want to call me. I've never really been attracted to men sexually, but I don't think I would be afraid of it if it happened." Lee described himself as shy upon shooting the first sex scene and found it initially, technically difficult but praised Ledger and Gyllenhaal for their professionalism. Ledger's performance was described by Luke Davies as a difficult and empowering portrayal given the environment of the film: "In Brokeback Mountain the vulnerability, the potential for danger, is so great - a world so masculine it might destroy you for any aberration - that [Ledger's] real brilliance was to bring to the screen a character, Ennis Del Mar, so fundamentally shut down that he is like a bible of unrequited desires, stifled yearnings, lost potential."
Despite the film's criticism, it was also regarded as successful in subverting "the myth of the American West and its iconic heroes." Responding to how the film challenges the iconic image of the white, male, all American cowboy and allows them to engage with same-sex relationships, author Jim Kitses states: "What drives the emotional attack of the film is the inadequacy of its characters to articulate and understand, let alone control, the experience that strikes them like a storm. American cowboys--of all people--have no business falling in love with each other. Practical and conservative types of a rough and ready manhood are by no means ready for man-love."
Brokeback Mountain was lauded as a landmark in LGBT cinema and credited for influencing several films and television shows featuring LGBT themes and characters. In Out at the Movies, Steven Paul Davies explains that as a result of the film's success, "most major film studios have been clamouring to get behind new, gay-themed projects... thanks to Brokeback, film financiers will continue to back scripts that don't simply rely on gay stereotypes...and that will certainly be progress." Davies cites Milk, Transamerica, and I Love You Phillip Morris as examples of such films. In 2018, Brokeback Mountain was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
The pair of shirts worn by Ledger's and Gyllenhaal's characters were sold on eBay on February 20, 2006, for US$101,100.51. The shirts were sold to benefit children's charity Variety. The buyer, Tom Gregory, film historian and collector, described the shirts as "the ruby slippers of our time," referring to an artifact from The Wizard of Oz film. In 2009, Gregory loaned the shirts to the Autry National Center in Los Angeles for its series, Out West, which explored the history of homosexual, bisexual and transgender people in the Old West. The series included a gallery tour, panel discussions, lectures and performances, with events held in four installments over the course of 12 months. According to the Autry, the series was the "first of its kind" for a western heritage museum.
A book, Beyond Brokeback: The Impact of a Film (2007) is a collection of personal stories of how people were influenced by the story and film, compiled from members of the Ultimate Brokeback Forum website. In an associated Out West series program, the Autry screened Brokeback Mountain in December 2010 to commemorate the film's fifth anniversary and held a staged reading of Beyond Brokeback by historian and Out West organizer Gregory Hinton. Beyond Brokeback has been presented as a staged reading at other venues, such as Roosevelt University in Chicago, on November 13, 2011, together with a panel discussion and screening of the film. An American opera, Brokeback Mountain, was composed by Charles Wuorinen with a libretto by Annie Proulx. Written in English, it premiered at the Teatro Real in Madrid on January 28, 2014. It was championed by impresario Gerard Mortier, who had commissioned it.
Several years after the film's release, Proulx said she regrets writing the story. She said that people have sent her too much fan fiction presenting alternative plots. Some authors, mostly men claiming to "understand men better than I do", often send their works. She said:
[The film] is the source of constant irritation in my private life. There are countless people out there who think the story is open range to explore their fantasies and to correct what they see as an unbearably disappointing story [...] They constantly send ghastly manuscripts and pornish rewrites of the story to me, expecting me to reply with praise and applause for "fixing" the story. They certainly don't get the message that if you can't fix it you've got to stand it. Most of these "fix-it" tales have the character Ennis finding a husky boyfriend and living happily ever after, or discovering the character Jack is not really dead after all, or having the two men's children meet and marry, etc., etc.